Party at Pod

Two things surprised me about my recent visit to Pod in University City (3636 Sansom St., Philadelphia; (215) 387-1803,

One, the food was really good, and two, it was less expensive than I thought it would be.

Now here’s the back-story:

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A group of us went downtown last Friday (April 18) to celebrate one of my daughter’s birthdays. Having anticipated a late night based on an 8:30 p.m. reservation, we wisely left little brother at home. Good decision—we were not seated until 9:30 p.m. Because we wanted to set an example for the kids, and because we were just in a good mood and happy to be out after a long week of work and school, we kept our complaints in check. (And, the kids were enjoying the funky décor and squishy sofas, which they were lucky to snag.) In fact, we didn’t approach the hostess until after the 30-minute mark.

Another half-hour passed from that first check-in to when we were seated, but thumbs up to Pod’s savvy staff that quickly gleaned that the six kids we had in tow were ravenous. Within minutes of getting settled, we were flooded with appetizers. Now, I am not going to lie; the adults were starving, too. Point is: I was in no frame of mind to be overanalyzing every morsel. And this really was a night out off the MLT clock, so I felt safe just going for it.

The edamame were perfectly cooked and salted, and gone in the blink of an eye. I left the tempura vegetables for the kids after stealing one three-inch, precisely cut rectangle of eggplant, but double dipped on the sweet and sour pork dumplings.

I lost track of some of the other apps due to the ensuing food frenzy, but I can safely say, everything that passed my lips was rich with textures and flavors. We greeted the next round of food in a less barbaric manner.

Favorites of the night were: tuna hand rolls three ways, which got their intrigue from their varying wrappers, all deliciously crispy to contrast the supple tuna and soft rice, just the way I like them; Asian braised short ribs were succulent and tangy, and not long for this world; the same goes for the lamb chops and wasabi filet, both cooked to an enticing shade of cerise.

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Crab fried rice was a hit all around and surprisingly generous on crab content, as were the wok charred beef and chicken lettuce wraps with Thai peanut sauce, fried calamari, lobster sushi roll and X.O. lobster, consumed mostly by the kids! I stuck to my tempura fried soft shell crabs, which proved to be crispy and meaty, but more than I could handle portion-wise.

By the time dessert rolled around, we were more than satisfied, but being a birthday and all, we ordered two servings of the “Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate,” the banana split bombe and a plate of sorbet. My ultra-petite daughter ate one-and-a-half whole chocolate mousses while the rest of us devoured the mini molten chocolate cakes and bread pudding, which went fabulously with our kids’ ice creams and sorbets.

Ultimately, we had a great time, and my suburban, but not exactly sheltered, kids enjoyed all the sights and sounds of University City and one of the city’s hippest hangs. I’d definitely recommend Pod for a night out with the family. The portions are ample for sharing, and the food not so “way out” that picky kids will balk—unless of course, it’s your almost-9-year-old, in which case, sign him up for a play date, because those reservations may not go off like clockwork.

Talula’s To-go on the Go
You might not be able to score a seat at Talula’s coveted table, but restaurant buzz has it that this now nationally recognized dining mecca is joining the Headhouse Farmers’ Market in Philly. Stay tuned for more on this, but trust us, this is as close as you’re going to get to Aimee Olexy and Brian Sykora’s cooking…unless you drive to Kennett for take-out.

From Crab Cakes to Grilled Cheese, It’s Bobby Flay All the Way
It’s still National Grilled Cheese Month, so yesterday’s foodie buzz included a scoop on a January challenge between Food Network’s Throwdown chef, Bobby Flay, and the Pop Shop (Collingswood, N.J.). Flay challenged its owners to a grilled cheese-off and won, despite their excellent-sounding contender. Check it out tonight on the Food Network. In the meantime, here’s another recipe for your griddle repertoire:

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Grilled Brie and Goat Cheese with Bacon and Green Tomato
Courtesy of Bobby Flay and the Food Network

16 slices center-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch-thick pieces
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 slices Pullman bread, sliced 1-inch thick
8 to 12 ounces really good-quality Brie
2 green tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch-thick
8 ounces soft goat cheese, cut into 8 slices (recommended: Boucheron goat cheese)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

» Place the bacon in a large skillet or griddle, and cook until golden brown and crisp. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate. Break each piece into fourths and set aside.
» Heat a cast iron griddle or cast iron pan over medium heat.
» Spread butter on one side of each slice of bread. Layer four of the slices of the bread with three to four slices of Brie, two tomato slices, watercress, two slices goat cheese and four slices of broken-up bacon, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the remaining bread slices on top, buttered side up, and cook on the griddle until golden brown on both sides and the Brie has melted.

Blackboard Specials
Culinary to-dos and deals for insatiable epicureans …

On Friday, April 25, from 5-7 p.m., Teikoku (5492 West Chester Pike, Newtown Square) will host a SAKE Tasting with Paul Trier from Philly-based importer/distributor Star Cellars. Paul will be pouring Onikoroshi Ginjo, Ohyama Nigori, Harushika Tokimeki and Choya Ume Blanc sakes. Eagles linebacker Chris Gocong will make a special appearance in support of Special Olympics, his favorite charity and the beneficiary of this event. For more information, call (610) 644-8270.

Wine and dine with Pierre Robert at the Gypsy Saloon (128 Ford St., West Conshohocken; (610) 828-8494, on Tuesday, April 29, but first, tune into Pierre’s show on WMMR April 24 to find out how you can join him for dinner at his table on-the-house. Dinner starts at 7:30 p.m. and includes a half-hour meet-and-greet. The Gypsy Saloon’s full à la carte menu will be offered, along with these Pierreno Grigio-friendly specials:

Appetizer: Rock shrimp baked with lemon, oregano, garlic butter, Pierreno Grigio and aged sherry, $9.

Pasta Pierre: Fresh linguini with wild mushrooms, artichoke hearts and oven-roasted tomatoes in a Pierreno Grigio garlic sauce with a touch of cream, $18.

Bronzino à la Pierreno Grigio: Bronzino filet steamed with Pierreno Grigio, orange zest and fresh herbs over sautéed escarole, $24.

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!